"Our kids know Evarts will give us their best game," Donahue said. "It's always a good game, and coach (Ovie) Canady has done an excellent job since he's been there. It's a true rivalry in the fact that you never know who is going to win it. It's always a well-played and close game."
Evarts entered the 2003 season as one of the district favorites, but a 22-12 loss to the Dragons sent the Cats reeling toward a 1-9 campaign.
Harlan lost the two previous Alumni Bowl matchups and went on to disappointing seasons of 5-5 in 2001 and 4-7 in 2002 while Evarts made back-to-back playoff appearances in Canady's first two years as coach, finishing second in District 7 in 2002 with an 8-3 record.
Both coaches know the importance of a win Friday as the victor takes the early lead in District 7 while the loser usually spends the rest of the season fighting just to get into the playoffs.
Harlan (1-0) was off last week after rolling past Cawood 35-6 in its season opener. The Dragons entered the season as the co-favorite for the district title along with defending champ Somerset.
"If we went by prognostications there wouldn't be any reason to play the games," noted Canady. "Harlan was favored the first two years I was here, and we won. We'll be there, and we'll be ready to play, but we know we have to play our best game to win."
Evarts (1-1) is coming off a 53-8 thrashing of Letcher on Saturday to end a six-game losing streak. The Wildcats rolled up 239 yards on the ground last week even though the starters played less than half the game.
"They've ran the ball well. They moved the ball quite a bit against Middlesboro in a scrimmage, and they scored 53 points last week, so they were doing something right offensively," Donahue said.
Senior quarterback Shawn Hoskins also had a big game against Letcher, completing all four of his passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
"Hoskins is a three-year starter, and he throws the ball really well," Donahue said. "I think he's matured as a quarterback. They're still in the process of developing some receivers, but if they develop they will cause some problems throwing the football."
The Wildcats' defense was also impressive, giving up only two first downs in the first half.
"They are typical Evarts defensively. They are aggressive and hard-nosed. They'll get up in our face and bring a lot of people up there in the box," Donahue said. "We'll have to be able to block people up front and hit some running lanes."
Harlan gained 370 yards in its win over Cawood as both Andrew Grieshop and Teddy Thompson topped the 100-yard mark.
"Defensively, our guys have to do what they're coached to do. We have to try and keep Grieshop and Thompson bottled up," Canady said. "We've also got to get first downs and avoid turnovers."
Before the Trojans opened their seven-win campaign of 2003, Cawood coach Frank Smith commented about a "mean streak" that marked his team's play in the preseason.
The Trojans' aggressive brand of football carried over into the regular season as they posted their best record since 1998.
Last season's success hasn't carried over into 2004. Losses to Harlan and Cumberland in the opening two weeks have identified areas where the Trojans need improvement, not the least of which is finding the mean streak they had the year before.
"Our kids have got to find a way to be physical," Smith said. "We're getting outphysicaled every time we turn around.
"For whatever reason, whether it's afraid of making mistakes, or whatever, when it gets going and it gets nitty gritty, our kids are not being very physical. That's what this game is about, and we're not doing a very good job of doing that."
A game against Knox Central has traditionally been the perfect medicine for whatever ailed the Trojans, who own a 28-3 advantage in the series, but this year's Panthers are improved under first-year coach Wayne Mills, a former Bell County assistant.
"They're drastically different. They are a good football team," Smith said. "They are a very strong, aggressive football team, especially up front."
Knox Central (1-1) opened the season with a 24-6 win over Evarts before falling to Whitley County at home last week.
Mills blames much of the Trojans' early-season problems on a lack of experience and expects a tight game Friday.
"Cawood has a lot of youthfulness, and they are trying to play through that," Mills said. "When they get everything situated, they will do fine in their district."
Halfbacks Matt Ramsey and Travis Cutter have averaged over 100 yards each in the Panthers' opening two games to lead the offense. Junior linebacker Stanton Peace has anchored the Central defense with 23 tackles.
Smith plans several lineup changes as he seeks to reverse the Trojans' fortunes, including moving sophomore fullback Mikey Hensley into a starting halfback slot. Sophomore Greg Edens will rotate at fullback with senior Bryan Greene, who moves from receiver.
Michael White, also a sophomore halfback, has led the Cawood ground attack with 166 yards in two games. Senior quarterback Andrew Brock has passed for 318 yards with two touchdowns, both to senior wide receiver Shawn Ely.
Kickoff in both games is set for 7:30 p.m.